26 Feb 2010 - 27 Feb 2010 All day CRASSH, 17 Mill Lane, Cambridge



Download the Moving Image conference poster.

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Anna Elsner (Modern and Medieval Languages, Cambridge)
Richard Armstrong (Modern and Medieval Languages, Cambridge)

Conference summary

The past twenty years saw increasing cinematic investment in grief and mourning at the multiplex and at the art house, exemplified in releases ranging from high profile blockbusters – Schindler’s List (1993), Deep Impact (1998) – to modest arthouse titles – Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990), Three Colours: Blue (1993), Festen (1998), Morvern Callar (2001). This efflorescence took place against televised wars and genocides in Kosovo, Rwanda and Iraq, and the events of 9/11 and the ‘War on Terror’. The decline of Communism made the closing years of the 20th century seem to many like an era of endings, fuelling millennial anxieties and emphasizing the transience of institutions and human life alike. This conference is informed by the paradox that, whilst death for the contemporary individual seems remote from quotidian consciousness, in recent years, experiences of human demise seemed to be omnipresent in all forms of media representations – from the art house movie to internet memorialization. Many of these treatments seemed to hint at cinema’s special affinity for presence and absence, which is why this conference aims to address the aesthetic and institutional origins and characteristics of this efflorescence of ‘mourning films’ after trauma studies and in the wake of the Benjaminian ‘age of mechanical reproduction’. Drawing on papers from fields such as history, psychology, anthropology, sociology, counselling and architecture, and theorists from Mulvey, Deleuze, Frampton, and Kübler-Ross and William Worden, this conference asks whether the identification of a genre defined in reference to a very specific field of representation throws light upon the use of the moving image in other educational and institutional settings such as academic departments of psychology and social work, and the grief therapy session and whether, in an era so reticent about death, the moving image could be seen as a space in which issues around loss can be explored.

Do the aesthetics of mourning in the moving image have precedents in older cinematic genres, or in ideas about death? What light do mourning films throw on contemporary manners and mores around death and mourning? Can we speak of aesthetics which are peculiar to mourning on screen? What psychoanalytical or therapeutic value does the film of mourning have for those in the audience who have experienced loss? Do films treating this experience have any functionality in grief counseling? The question of whether releases emerging from internationally dispersed institutional and aesthetic fields might constitute a genre in their own right will cogently inform many of the contributions to this conference. What might the identification of the mourning genre tell us about how genres get elaborated and reproduced? Has this ‘genre’, like the western and the melodrama, given rise to a pantheon of directors or stars?

Issues considered in the conference will consist, but not be limited, to the following:

The aesthetic treatment of grief and mourning in the moving image;
The moving image as a site of expression, elucidation and relief;
Historical attitudes to death embodied in public ritual, art and memorialization;
Death and the modern community;
Testamentary, journalistic and literary reflections on death and loss;
Therapeutic and psychoanalytical accounts of bereavement and mourning;
The subversive or fugitive representation of death;
The ‘mourning film’ as a genre.


Accommodation for Delegates

We are unable to arrange accommodation, however, the following websites may be of help.


Conference sponsors

This event is generously supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), The French Embassy, the Society for French Studies, the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge University and Lenore Ruben.


Administrative assistance: Anna Malinowska (Conference Programme Manager, CRASSH)


Tel: +44 1223 766886
Email enquiries@crassh.cam.ac.uk